Charlotte to study ‘pay as you throw’ idea for garbage

Your water bill is based on how much water you use. Your power bill is based on how much electricity you consume.

That principle could be coming to garbage pickup in the city of Charlotte, which is studying whether to implement a “pay as you throw” fee method, in which residents pay for how much garbage they produce.

A vendor that specializes in pay as you throw gave a presentation to the city’s Solid Waste Services department in May, and the city said it’s considering the issue as a way to more accurately account for the price of collecting and disposing of garbage.

The goal would be to encourage people to recycle more. That would save space in the city’s landfill in Cabarrus County near Charlotte Motor Speedway and could save taxpayers money in the long term.

The city is preparing to issue a new request for proposal for its recycling contract after the city terminated its contract with Inland Services early because of poor performance. Assistant City Manager Ann Wall said the city is evaluating how it collects garbage and said a pay as you throw plan could be woven into the new contract next year.

Raleigh-based Waste Zero made a presentation to Charlotte staff earlier this year. The company provides some pay as you throw services in the Northeast, including Fall River and Worcester, Mass.

The current system doesn’t give residents an incentive to recycle, said Joshua Kolling-Perin, a Waste Zero spokesperson.

He said Waste Zero has found that having people use special trash bags – that residents pay for individually – is effective at reducing waste.

Residents would first place their trash in specially colored bags, then put those bags in their 96-gallon rollout containers for curbside pick up. The garbage truck driver would monitor via camera whether the wrong bags were used.

“They are paying per bag that they dispose of,” Kolling-Perin said. “Garbage has a price. You want to throw away as little as you can.”

City Council member John Autry, who chairs the city’s environment committee, said he supports studying pay as you throw.

“What we’re charging residents annually for solid waste services isn’t covering the costs,” he said. “It’s supplemented by the general fund to cover the cost. And we have a situation where the landfill out in Harrisburg is a finite thing. It will reach its point where it can’t take any more trash.”

The city should consider pay as you throw, Autry said during a news conference for Sustain Charlotte, a nonprofit that encourages the region to make environmentally sensitive choices in transportation, land use and energy consumption.

The city’s Solid Waste budget for this fiscal year is $48.7 million.

Of that, the solid waste fee generates only $12.3 million. Single-family homes are billed $47 a year by the city and $15 for Mecklenburg County.

The solid waste fee is intended to cover the cost of trash disposal. The cost of collecting trash – along with recycling, yard waste and bulky items – comes from the city’s general fund, which also pays for services such as police, fire and roads.

Wall said the city is still early in the process and hasn’t decided whether to move forward with pay as you throw. The city also hasn’t decided whether to consider increasing the solid waste fees, she said.

A person who lives alone – and who recycles and composts – could in theory pay less to dispose of their trash under such a system. However, a large family could pay more.

“It’s not a matter of winners and losers,” Kolling-Perin said. “It’s a matter of having people pay for the municipal services that they use.”

He added: “I don’t leave the faucet running when I leave the house. But if I did, I would have to pay for that.”

(Note: This story was updated at 1 p.m. Aug. 21 to correct how rollout containers would be used under the Waste Zero program.)